CLAIMS that cancer waiting times are a “ticking timebomb” for Forth Valley patients are being dismissed.

Figures from Public Health Scotland show that in the quarter between October and December 2023, 98.7 per cent of NHS Forth Valley patients who were diagnosed with cancer started their treatment within 31 days of their decision to treat.

Known as the 31-day standard, health boards must ensure that 95 per cent of eligible patients should wait no longer than a month from the decision to treat, to the first cancer treatment.

At the same time, the health board has failed to meet targets for what is known as the 62-day standard, which states that 95 per cent of eligible patients should wait no longer than two months from urgent suspicion of cancer referral to first cancer treatment.

In the October to December 2023 quarter, 76.2 per cent of Forth Valley patients with an urgent suspicion of cancer referral started their first treatment in 62 days – an improvement from the 69.2 per cent the quarter before and above the Scottish average of 71.1 per cent.

One patient did wait a “scarcely believable” 154 days to begin treatment.

The statistics for the 62-day standard have prompted Conservative MSP Alexander Stewart to call on health secretaries to “get a grip of this cancer crisis” with the opposition representative claiming that patients are “facing a ticking timebomb”.

However, the health board has highlighted that it “consistently meets or exceeds” the targets against the 31-day standard, which applies once patients have been diagnosed.

And in the case of the 62-day standard, SNP MSP Keith Brown highlighted that there has been a “marked improvement” with more funding being made available to further reduce waiting times.

Mr Stewart said: “We are facing a ticking timebomb when it comes to cancer cases in NHS Forth Valley.

“It should shame SNP ministers that only just over 76 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within two months in the last few months of last year.

“Everyone knows someone who has been diagnosed with this awful disease and how crucial starting treatment is for their chances of survival.

“Successive SNP health secretaries have simply failed to get a grip of this cancer crisis in for far too long, indeed it is scarcely believable that one patient locally waited 154 days to begin treatment.”

While one patient did wait 154 days for treatment from suspicion, not diagnosis, of cancer, the median wait time in NHS Forth Valley was 48 days.

In the quarter in question, there were 265 eligible patients and 202 of those started treatment within 62 days.

Responding to Mr Stewart, Clacks and Dunblane MSP Keith Brown said: “In NHS Forth Valley, the 31-day standard – that 95 per cent of all eligible patients, regardless of the route of referral, should wait no longer than 31 days – was met.

“And in the case of the 62-day standard – which applies specifically to patients urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer – there has been a marked improvement from the previous quarter.

“Nevertheless, the Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to reducing waiting times and a further £10million of funding has been made available in 2023-24 to support this improvement.

“That, I think, should be welcomed by all.”

Examining the figures for the 31-day standard, there were 324 patients diagnosed with cancer in the NHS Forth Valley area in the October to December 2023 quarter.

As many as 320 began their treatment within a month with one patient waiting 49 days.

It is understood cancer care is a key priority for the local health board.

A spokesperson for NHS Forth Valley added: “NHS Forth Valley consistently meets or exceeds the national cancer treatment target which aims to ensure 95 per cent of patients diagnosed with cancer start their treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat.

“Our recent performance in relation to the 62-day cancer target is also well above the national Scottish average.

“Patients who require more specialist tests and treatment are referred to the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow and we continue to work closely with regional colleagues to reduce waiting times for local patients who require to be treated in other centres out with Forth Valley.”